Crime, drugs and overdoses. These are all factors in the opioid crisis that is killing more and more Canadians by the day and destroying countless families. One southern Alberta community is desperately calling for help, after experiencing mass overdoses and death, which has been plaguing the community for years.
The Blood Tribe is the largest reserve in Canada. As you drive through its most populated town, Standoff, instead of seeing billboards for a popular product, you see ads for drug prevention. The issue of drug use in this community is no secret, but things weren’t always this way.
According to Blood Tribe Elder Gilbert Eagle Bear, for generations the Blackfoot people lived substance-free, until alcohol was introduced in the late 1950s. A ban on alcohol resulted in a steady flow of bootleggers into the community, and by the 1960s there was epidemic.
Alcohol use on the reserve got so bad — and with a lack of social services in the area — families of those impacted resorted to using their own methods of support, often resulting in little no success.
Eventually, the ban was lifted and the situation improved. However, many residents dealing with the impacts of the residential school experience still turned to alcohol to self-medicate. Fast forward to the 2000s and another substance started creeping into people’s lives.
“Generally, it was prescription drug abuse that we were dealing with. As it migrated to fentanyl … it took us a while to really understand what was going on … so with that … yes, lives were lost in that time and unfortunately with the introduction of more and more drugs in the community … overdoses were quite frequent,” said Blood Tribe Police Chief Kyle Melting Tallow.
With a rise in overdoses came a greater number of deaths.
“In 2018, we had 365 overdoses with six deaths and in 2019 we’ve had under 100 and two deaths,” said Jacen Abrey, director of Blood Tribe Emergency Services.
They are staggering numbers for a nation of 13,000 band members.
“Carfentanil is the drug that is killing people. We recognized this as an issue and every time we seem to get ahead of it, the drug dealers seem to be finding new dealers to bring into townsite. … It’s extremely frustrating because we are helping a lot of the people … but the dealers are still getting in, still bringing it into the reserve,” Abrey added.
WATCH BELOW: The Blood Tribe reserve in southern Alberta saw 34 overdoses, resulting in three fatalities, in 21 days in November 2018.
One of those former drug dealers, who was also a user, shared the measures she took to feed her addiction. Due to safety concerns, Global News has agreed to conceal her identity.
“I would bring them in and out … you know, to my reserve, … be their transportation and I would get paid in drugs.”
This way of sustaining her addiction led her down another path.
“I noticed there was a demand for it on my reserve and I had this one friend from Calgary who came down … and she was like, ‘You know, I could get them for really cheap and we could come down and sell them to keep our habit going.’ And so that is what I did. … I did that for numerous years. I’d go up to Calgary and buy off these higher drug dealers.”
From an active user to a full-on drug dealer, she goes on to share how selling the drugs came with no remorse.
“When you are on the drug, it is bad … it is evil. You don’t have feelings, it doesn’t give you feeling. … It takes away your emotional, physical any kind of pain. … It takes away all that. When you are selling to other people it doesn’t click that you could possibly hurt this person and that they could possibly overdose … and it could be your fault.”
After years of selling to her own, she made the difficult decision to turn her life around. She made her way to the one place she felt would get her on the right track: the detox centre in her home community.
In part two of our series, coming Tuesday, we visit the Blood Tribe detox centre where we hear from the head physician on how exactly these drugs are affecting the human body, plus we hear from a client who is looking to make it through detox, while pregnant.